For Coachella Valley residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, epilepsy, and other conditions, acquiring independent learning skills, social innovation, and new pathways to employment is life-altering.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand the real-life frustrations disabled people have,” says Richard Balocco, President and CEO of Desert Arc, a nonprofit human services organization serving the desert communities. “If disabled people don’t have proper access to tools that ease anxiety around the things related to their disability, it can be debilitating.”
Desert Arc assists on that front, offering significant resources for nearly 700 individuals with disabilities. Myriad services abound at the organization. In addition to providing a haven on its local campus, Desert Arc offers such things as employment services (on-the-job training, supportive job placement), adult day center, transportation programs, behavior management, sports and recreation, and much more.
But for most nonprofits providing community service, “funding is essential,” Balocco says, whether that be government funding, grant funding, or donor funding. While the organization receives major funding from the State of California, the state doesn’t fund everything.
“For funding we don’t receive, we either have to come up with it out of our own pocket or find grant funding,” Balocco notes.
Recently Desert Arc received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation (IECF) through the Butch Hill Donor Advised Fund.
Balocco believes the niche funding provided by IECF is important for its small group of wheelchair clients who need sensory tools, such as games, puzzles, and the like, which aid in their development.
As the organization moves forward through 2022, overseeing proper flow of its core programs as the Valley moves through the outer stretches of the pandemic and community outreach will be a significant focus.
“A lot of people don’t even know what we do, and we’d like to change that,” Balocco says. “Sometimes I think they look at the tiny building across from Sherman’s Deli & Bakery and think that’s it. But we have quite a campus here with multiple buildings and a campus up in Yucca Valley.”
Something noteworthy for local companies and individuals is Desert Arc’s Business Services division, which provides shredding, recycling, landscape maintenance, and janitorial amenities, which are contracted.
“One main goal of ours is to give our clients a job to achieve at their highest level,” Balocco shares. “We have a wide variety of clients and the idea that we can create and improve their lives, make them happy, and see them be productive, is satisfying. This is what we do, and I don’t know if many people are aware of that.”
Desert Arc has seen many success stories throughout its stellar history.
“We gauge our effectiveness by the experiences clients share with us,” Balocco points out. “At our core, we’re a small but passionate group, and we’ve had little turnover in our wonderful management team. Our commitment to the clients is really what makes a big difference.”
A longtime Silicon Valley executive until his retirement in 2007, Balocco came to the Valley shortly thereafter to assist Desert Arc through some financial readjustments. Eight weeks later, he suddenly found himself becoming the organization’s president and CEO.
“It was infectious in terms of the clients,” he admits. “Because it would be easy to ignore this type of group—you know, just put them on campus, provide some day programming, send them home, and forget about it. At Desert Arc, they have friends and support. We feel as if we’re really making a difference offering these kinds of services, rather than just making money for shareholders.
“That’s what I did before. But not anymore.”
For more information on Desert Arc, visit desertarc.org.
This story originally appeared in the Desert Sun, May 2022. Photos courtesy of Desert Arc.
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